ORLANDO (Reuters) - The Boston Celtics took a tight hold on the Eastern Conference finals with a 95-92 victory over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, staving off a late rally to open a 2-0 series lead with back-to-back road wins.
"We were ready for the intensity they were going to bring," Pierce told reporters after Boston built a nine-point lead in the first quarter and controlled a majority of the game. "We're not going to take these two wins for granted."
Boston had an 11-point fourth-quarter lead wiped out as a resurgent Orlando took a one-point edge with 3:35 left, but the Celtics closed the game with a 6-2 run capped by two Pierce free throws for the final margin.
Jameer Nelson made a desperation three-point attempt from just inside half-court at the buzzer but was unable to send the game into overtime.
Dwight Howard rebounded from a poor Game One and scored 30 points but the Magic were held to just 39 percent shooting and now face an uphill battle if they are to reach their second straight NBA Finals.
Two late-game errors hurt the Magic's chances of taking the series to Boston all square, starting with Vince Carter's missed free throws that could have brought the home team within one with 31 seconds left.
Then as Orlando got the rebound for its final possession, reserve J.J. Redick made the mistake of advancing the ball before calling timeout.
Because of the error, the team was not allowed to inbound the ball at midcourt and had to pass from the backcourt, making their final attempt a more difficult one.
"It was a big difference because (on the last play) Rashard (Lewis) got open but because we were inbounding in the backcourt, we could not make the pass to him," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy lamented.
Both Carter and Redick finished with 16 points apiece.
Boston guard Rajon Rondo had 25 points and eight assists to back up Pierce, who has been rejuvenated since averaging just 13.5 points-per-game in the second round.
(Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien)